Gentleman or artist

What were the circumstances which drove him to leave himself open to condemnation over his writing? Was it naivety, disappointment at not winning the Pulitzer Prize; remorse? Was it guilt over his betrayal of the two murderers in the writing of In Cold Blood? Whatever it was -and maybe it was a combination of all of these- he became unsettled. He boasted that he would show the world what a good writer can do by writing the best book ever –a memoir Answered Prayers. The title was based on words attributed to St Teresa of Avila that more tears are shed over answered prayers than those that remain unanswered.

 That’s when the writers’ block hit him. He couldn’t settle down to write; flitting about and dabbling in petty controversies instead. But he was bound to the scandal of contractual agreements involving big money and therefore compelled to write, and he wrote La Côte Basque.

 Supposedly a work of fiction for a magazine, the piece which was to be part of the memoir Answered Prayers, was instead a thinly disguised fictional delineation of some very well-known personalities of New York High Society some of whom had been his closest friends.

 Immediately on the publication of the piece; the gossip columns ran wild, the phones ran hot and the cries of outrage and screams for revenge were rampant as one by one, his friends saw their words and their affairs –innocent and sordid- acted out by thinly disguised characters on a page which resembled them. One person, already suffering from depression, couldn’t face the dredging up of her long forgotten sins and overdosed.

One door after another began to slam shut in his face, concealing deeply hurt people standing firmly behind them refusing to open up to him. He had betrayed his life-long friends who had supported him and confided in him. He had chosen to be the writer at the cost of friendships and he could not sustain the haemorrhage that followed. Besides, the controversy quickly attracted the sharks in the art world. Long consumed with jealousy over his talent and successes, they joined the attack.

Surprisingly, the person most puzzled by the reaction was Truman himself. “I’m a writer,” he cried, “I don’t understand it.” One or two loyal friends stood by him. Someone tried to ring those who were outraged and explain: “He’s an artist, and you can’t control artists.” But they were not mollified.

The deepest mutual wounds were inflicted when his closest friend and the love of his life cut him off. In an attempt to redress the wrongs done to her as she lay ill with lung cancer, Truman lampooned her philandering husband and mentioned his affair in La Côte Basque. She never forgave him that indiscretion and refused to speak to him again. She died shortly after. They were never reconciled.

 In the deep silence which followed, Truman talked about Art. He quoted Proust: “In Society, a great friendship does not amount to much”. But this cynicism did not help in his case as he lost his friends. “The artist is a dangerous person because he’s out of control,” he said, “He is controlled only by his art… All a writer has for material is what he knows…At least, that’s all I’ve got –what I know.” But these public, high-minded lectures gave way in private to insomnia, alcoholism and tears of regret: “I never meant to hurt anyone,” he said.

It seemed as if the disappointments inflicted by soulless individuals in his life had hit him so hard that he no longer had the energy to make appropriate choices. In the naïve, misdirected cynicism of La Côte Basque, Truman Capote had underestimated the power of the written word. 

He died alone in the home of one loyal friend. Answered Prayers was never finished.